Technology to wear is the most mainstream innovation of the last three years or so, with the rise of Fitness trackers for any type of use, designed to suit all fashion senses: but today wearing technology means also wearing technological fabrics. The new frontier is in fact in soft hardware embedded in your everyday garments.
Sportswear as a sign of fabrics evolution
Sports has always been the chosen territory by science experts where to explore new frontiers in terms of materials, aerodynamics, engineering and anything that links the body to the performance. Textiles are probably the most evident proof of the development of modern technology in creating high performing materials: in the space of five decades we have gone from football shirts made out of heavy cotton to today’s Nike’s Dri-Fit, a fabric that draws away sweat and increases ventilation or Ziland’s Z-Cool/Heat football shirts, which can adapt to the body’s temperature.
But what if athletes could wear fabrics able to monitor their health conditions and performances?
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The MIT has already done three steps ahead of everyone else and developed a technology for cloth that has indeed an electronic device built right into to it: hardware is far from a hard-chunky electronic gadget, or better, it is far from being a miniature version of something like a FitBit.
They have come up with high speed optoelectronic semiconductor devices and embedded them into soft, washable fabrics, turning a simple t-shirt into communication systems. This ‘blend’ comes as the birth of functional fabrics and they will be the future of not only sports textiles, but also what we wear on a daily basis.
Yoel Fink, MIT professor of materials science and electrical engineering and CEO of AFFOA (Advanced Functional Fabrics of America) stated in an interview:
“It is already allowing us to expand the fundamental capabilities of fabrics to encompass communications, lighting, physiological monitoring, and more. In the years ahead, fabrics will deliver value-added services and will no longer just be selected for aesthetics and comfort.”
The sensors are washable up to 25 cycles, comfortable, invisible during use: in their latest collection they have targeted sporty women, as well as professional women. Theirs is a type of wearable technology that allows the wearer to monitor their health conditions, anything from heartbeat to stress levels. On top of introducing such a meaningful innovation, it is also created in total sustainability.
What could soft hardware do?
Have you ever tried to ask a 2-year-old if they are cold or feel warm? You can try, but it’s totally up to you if you want to trust in what they say and take their jacket off, even if you feel rather nippy.
Kids wear isn’t the only field in which Soft Hardware could find a huge application, we will claim credits for it: think about the medical field. From patients who cannot communicate due to a temporary condition, or to those who need 24/7 medical assistance, the elderly and people who are affected by some type of disability.
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Is the future of this innovation for all?
It’s no surprise that the whole research at the MIT was also supported by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the U.S. Army Research Office through the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies. But we really hope innovations like these will be destined to those whose life can really be turned around by technology, those we really need it.